The Show(case) Must Go On!

The group is signed to Volcom Entertainment, an indie label distributed by MCA/Universal, and is about to embark on its second consecutive Warped Tour this summer to inflict its brand of brainy aggression on thousands of sunburned kids across the country. "A live show will make it or break it for a band," says Robison of Vaux's vaunted stage performance, a gloriously nauseating assault of lights, noise and gut-pummeling concussion. That's a big part of what we do -- playing for people and feeding off that energy. If you see us on stage, usually we're just running around like chickens with our heads cut off." -- Heller

VOICES UNDERWATER
NOMINATED IN ECLECTIC
6:30 P.M., ACOMA CENTER
"When I first moved here, I saw an ad that said, 'Looking for a bass player with chops,'" says Ben DeVoss, singer and guitarist for Voices Underwater. "I don't really even know what chops are, but I probably don't have them."

A native of Lawrence, Kansas, DeVoss immigrated to Denver and started Vuja Dé in 2001 with bassist/keyboardist Chris White and drummer Bill Menchaca. With the recruitment of guitarist Mackenzie Howard, the group became simply VU, or Voices Underwater.

Mark Farina
Mark Farina

"Voices Underwater will be ever-evolving," Howard says, and that applies to much more than just the band's name. Though certainly no showoffs in the chops department, the members of VU flaunt a certain conceptual virtuosity. Their songs progress from tender indie rock to brittle textural abstraction, and DeVoss's vocals slip from the real to the surreal with the nerdy grace of Stephen Malkmus's. "It's not like I write a song and I'm like, this is exactly what I want to say, this is exactly how I feel," he explains. "I just take different phrases and ideas and kind of mix and match."

This patchwork approach is all over the group's eponymous full-length disc, released this year on Ohio's Action Driver imprint. Guitars and keyboards surge and recede as waves of dark melody rob oxygen from DeVoss's lungs. It's a dynamic yet lulling sound that subliminally hints at Radiohead, Blonde Redhead and probably a lot of other bands with "head" in their names. Its intellectual brawn, however, never overpowers its flesh-and-blood vulnerability, and the songs morph fluidly from a crashing roar to the splash of a drop.

The VU roster is also about to take a huge leap in evolution: Howard and Menchaca are both moving away at the end of the summer. "We're very sad. The band is a huge friendship thing for us," says DeVoss. "Chris and I will do some repair work. There'll be some remixing of the lineup." After an appearance at South by Southwest in Austin earlier this year, Voices Underwater is building a swift momentum; hopefully, its next incarnation will be just as hypnotic and evocative. -- Heller

THE WITCHING HOUR
NOMINATED IN ECLECTIC
Truth be told, über-drummer Kenny James hasn't played for every band in town over the past dozen years, but it's not for want of trying. Among the combos on his resumé are the Samples, Carolyn's Mother, Judge Roughneck, God Rifle, Rorschach Test and Chaos Theory -- and if Metallica and the Backstreet Boys hailed from Denver, he would have kept time for them, too. Nonetheless, the project to which he's been most consistently devoted is the Witching Hour, in part because "it isn't actually a band," says James, who plays guitar and sings in this particular configuration. "It's me and a bunch of people I hire - normally, two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer and two background vocalists."

Given James's wide-ranging track record, it's no surprise that the Witching Hour's sound is tough to pigeonhole. "Here's a description: hard-ambient-trip-hop rock," he offers, laughing. "Seriously, it's hard rock, but since I'm not a hollerer, it's not your typical hard rock. It's melodic. There are a lot of industrial things, a lot of percussive looping going on, and some sampling, but there are some ambient moments, too, which brings up the ambient and trip-hop side of things."

The Hour hasn't put out a disc since 2001's Angels in Shadow Blue, but James is about halfway through a followup that he expects will find its way to stores next year. Until then, he'll continue to take the occasional stage ("I'm trying to make our shows events, as opposed to playing every weekend at so-and-so bar and grill") while honing his Witching approach.

"I don't want to compromise the vision I have," James says. "I have these ideas, and I want to get them out there and see what happens." -- Roberts

HALDEN WOFFORD & THE HI BEAMS
NOMINATED IN COUNTRY/BLUEGRASS/ROOTS
The Skylark Lounge on South Broadway is home to a great, rootsy jukebox, scores of vintage photographs and a folksy clientele that's trickles in from the surrounding Baker neighborhood. It is also now home to Halden Wofford & the Hi Beams, who play there once a month.

"We decided to make it our exclusive place to play in Denver," says Wofford, the group's lead vocalist, acoustic guitarist and namesake. "It's totally fun to play there, and we love Scotty [Heron, the owner]. Now if you want to see us, you have to come down to the Skylark."

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